Imagine that you had a treasured vase. Maybe even a family memento. Something that had enormous sentimental value to you, and could not be replaced. And then, one day, accidentally, you knock it off the shelf. To your horror, it shatters in front of you, it’s beautiful pieces flying off in a million different directions. And as you desperately pick them up, you realize that you simply cannot put it back together the way it was. Yet, in the process of trying to restore your vase, you also realize something else. That you have made something new. And while the vase that once was will never be again, you have made something that is perhaps even more beautiful — both in it’s imperfect and nascent qualities — than the vase you once had. (1).
Well life is like that. We are, in many ways, like a vase, that when suffering a small break, probably can be restored to our original qualities. However, when our lives are shattered, what remains are only the pieces. But what these pieces represent is also the opportunity to create anew. Because had the vase not been shattered, we would have never considered what else is possible. We would have never been forced to rebuild, and we would have never had to grow. And it is upon this fertile ground that we can learn these five things.
1.Life Is Not Perfect. As much as you may try to make life fit into a perfect bubble it will not. Because no amount of planning, preparing, or insurance can ever prevent things that are just not in your control. And while you may try desperately to uphold an image — working long hours for the promotion, tenure or corner office, gunning after the luxury car, or finding the perfect mate — the reality is that these things can all be gone in a heartbeat. And as much as you’d like to think the world should fit your expectations, that people should behave as you think they should, that things should happen as you think they should, life is not like that. It is imperfect. It is good and bad. Sometimes really good and really bad at the same time. And the sooner you can accept the world as it is, the sooner you can let go of the way you think it should be.
2. You Are Not Perfect. You, whether you like it or not, are not infallible. That’s right, at some point, you will fail. We all do. As much as you may spend countless hours trying to present yourself as perfect — trying to prove to the world that you have it all together — the truth is no one does. And it is in accepting your faults, that you gain strength — because you no longer have to hide them. You also come to recognize that you are both tremendous failures and extraordinary triumphs. And sometimes one comes right after the other.
3. You Might Have Been On The Wrong Path. Sometimes it isn’t until your path is blocked that you consider it may not be the right path. Often, it isn’t until you can’t go in the direction you had been going in that you stop to consider if you ever really wanted to go that way anyway. Maybe it isn’t until what you thought mattered is now no longer possible that you realize it didn’t really matter at all. And instead, something entirely different — that you had never realized before — is what is most important. And you may trade material pursuit for the pursuit of meaning.
4. Relationships Matter More Than You Thought. You have traded hours at home, hours with the family, hours enjoying the company of good friends, because you got wrapped up in your job, your responsibilities, your goals — the things you thought mattered. And yet when your world falls apart, none of these “things” are going to provide you any relief. Because they are just things. They are not people, and as much as you think you love them, they are not going to love you back, They are not a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand, or a friend to confide in. And they will not get you through the worst of times. Instead it is the relationships you build, nurture and maintain that will sustain you when you most need it.
5. You Better Believe. You don’t have to be spiritual, or even believe in God for that matter. And you may not think faith matters one bit. But hope does. Because when things falls apart, when the odds seem insurmountable, there will be times you don’t think you can ever make it through, and you better find something to offer some hope. It is this very hope, faith, spirituality, or whatever you want to call it that it larger than you, that propels you on when when you think you can’t go anymore. And you may just learn that you are stronger than you think you are.
1. The concept of the shattered vase was first made popular by Joseph and Linley (2005), and later by Joseph and Patterson (2008).
Broken vase image available from Shutterstock.